Nor’-easters get up early
  |  First Published: November 2013

North-easters, often savage afternoon storms and the first real promise of some tropical water head the menu this month as things really warm up.

Unless that forecast wet spring we’ve heard so much about finally eventuates, the ocean and the estuaries are likely to remain extremely clear.

The offshore boats will be returning by mid-morning, with whitecaps from the north-easter snapping at their heels. With a nor’-east chop and swell colliding against strong outgoing tide over all of the local bars, they can become quite dodgy. It pays to get back in before the wind puffs up too much.

That’s especially so at Evans Head, where almost all of the reefs are south of the bar, which faces into the teeth of the breeze, and the bay seems to funnel in plenty of moving water back onto the bar.

There hasn’t been a great deal of current at all lately, which has led to reduced catches on the close grounds and not a lot of joy on the bottom fish front apart from patches of trag and the odd jew.

It’s often easy to get the current bag limit of five trag but at this time of year there are a lot of small ones about.

Trag and mulloway have large swim bladders and suffer badly from barotrauma – ‘the bends’ – when brought up from water much more than 15m deep. So there’s a strong chance that a lot of throwback trag aren’t going to survive.

Makes you wonder what might happen if the bag limit is indeed cut to two.

The best way of ensuring their survival is to use a release weight, a kilo-sized lump of lead hooked to the bottom jaw and lowered to the bottom on a line. Jiggle it and the fish is free and pressurised at depth again.

A release weight is compulsory kit offshore in Western Australia and it wouldn’t hurt for bottom fishos to carry one here, either. They’re easy to use and work well. Google ‘release weight’ and you’ll easily find out everything, including where you can buy one.

You could even make one by grinding the barb off an 8/0-10/0 straight-shanked J-hook, bolting the eye to the hole in a 600g snapper lead and tying the line to the hook bend.

Out wider, pearlies, better reds, kingfish and amberjack will be targets in 80m-120m until the East Australia Current begins to kick in solidly.

As the snapper trap bubbles begin to submerge in the increasing run, the mahi mahi should make their presence felt.

This is also when the first spotted mackerel sneak into Shark Bay at Woody Head. Look for the first couple of days after a strong southerly, especially leading up to the new or full moon. Get out there straight away – take a sickie if you must – because they won’t last.

Back on the beaches, whiting and dart become the major catches, although whenever some baitfish are around there’s always the chance of tailor, bream and mulloway.


First light is going to be the best time for all these species, although if you have live beachworms you’ll be able to catch some smaller whiting and plenty of dart for most of the day, until the nor’-easter blows you off the beach.

The whiting have already started to filter back into the estuaries. North Creek at Ballina and the Evans and Brunswick rivers have produced fair numbers early in the season on worms and yabbies.

But anyone who really wants to catch large whiting should try fishing over the shallow yabby flats at night on the top 30% of the tide.

Use unweighted live prawns or rock shrimps on fine wire hooks and 2lb-4lb line and try to make as little noise as you possibly can. But when you see the size of some of the fish, it often is very difficult to remain silent.

Of course, it’s also surface lure time for whiting. When the water is glassy and clear you might see plenty coming up like micro marlin behind your lure, but it can also be very frustrating when they shy away as they see the boat.

I’m no expert but I have found my best surface whiting results have come on grey days when there’s been at least a ripple on the water, and sometimes even a decent chop. Keen-eyed whiting are ever alert to predators from above and rougher conditions make them harder to spot.

The warming estuaries have also got the mangrove jacks on the prowl. Best results in the clear, shallow Brunswick and Evans rivers come at first and last light but the Richmond guys seem to score well on deep lures and livies around the rock walls, in quite bright conditions at times.

Flathead remain in spawning mode with the big gals likely to be down deeper in the holes and around the boulders at the bases of the rock walls low in the systems. There should be enough frisky males around to provide a feed and you can let the big females go to keep restocking the estuaries with more flatties.

If the high-tide water in the morning is too clear and calm, a falling tide and an afternoon north-easter isn’t such a bad time to find the flathead hungry. Again, a bit of chop and slightly discoloured water from upstream can help these ambushers remain concealed.

If there’s just a tinge of colour to the water they don’t have so much time to be selective; the meal gets eaten or it gets away.

It won’t hurt to look for flatties around the edges of the flats where you’ve found whiting –any flattie likes a tasty whiting meal.

The dry spring allowed the bass to move upstream quite quickly with fish caught at Lismore and Casino. Good flows down the Richmond helped to keep the fish going but nothing helped like the revamped fish ladder on the Jabour Weir at Casino.

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